The British Touring Car Championship title battle may be between Vauxhall stars Jason Plato and Yvan Muller, but their limelight was well and truly stolen in qualifying at Brands Hatch this afternoon when Warren Hughes planted his MG ZS on pole position for the feature race.
The Geordie set the fastest time overall in qualifying in the West Surrey Racing-run, Lola-designed machine on only its third appearance in the series since joining the fray one month ago at Silverstone.
"I genuinely thought that if we got on the second row and split the Astras we'd be doing well," said a surprised but elated Hughes. "The lap was just a really tidy one - very clean, and getting the power on in exactly the right places. The car was very consistent and I was just exploring the tyres and the balance.
"I thought we'd be closer to the pace here than elsewhere because it's a handling circuit rather than an outright power one, but my engineer and I really got the best out of the car. It's a nice way to finish off the qualifying season."
Almost as ecstatic is Muller, who took pole for the sprint race and second on the grid for the feature. And, with the MGs ineligible for points (owing to their late start to the season and subsequent 'extra-curricular' test schedule) he takes both pole position points. That moves the Frenchman to just four behind Plato before tomorrow's races, despite an early off in the session at Paddock Hill Bend, after which the Triple Eight mechanics had to replace his front splitter.
"I went in a bit quick and got oversteer," he explained. "I stopped that but that gave me understeer and I went into the gravel. I could just keep the car going and get back on the track. The guys did a good job in the pits, but after that instead of doing four runs I could do only three. Also I had understeer - the shock from the incident was a bit hard and maybe the steering was not straight or the splitter was raised too high."
Plato, meanwhile, starts the sprint race from second and the feature event from fourth. "My car was just a bit lively at the rear at Paddock and I couldn't attack," he said. "Every lap I was a bit sideways, but we won't know until we look at the data if that's where I'm losing the time. But the simple fact is I wasn't quick enough for pole."
The Egg Sport Vauxhall drivers, James Thompson and Phil Bennett, took a third place apiece, while Peugeot's men also each had their moment of glory: Steve Soper and Dan Eaves have one fifth place apiece and both are just a sniff away from pole after a very tightly-matched session - the top six overall were covered by less than eight-hundredths of a second!
The shocks didn't end with the Touring class, for Production category honours were taken by the Techspeed Peugeot 306 of Paul O'Neill. The Liverpudlian chased fellow pacesetter Simon Graves (Barwell Honda) around as the drying session went into its closing stages, then pulled everything together to wrestle pole away on the penultimate lap.
"I was on the track at Paddock, but off it everywhere else," said the joyous tin-top rookie. "On my pole lap I just tapped the brakes at Surtees, then had to brake on the grass for Clearways, but that put me right up behind Graves! I don't wanna race tomorrow now - I just wanna go home!"
Of the title contenders, Simon Harrison is best placed in third, the HTML Peugeot man believing that he had overdriven the crucial final lap and lost time, but grateful to bounce back after his crank sensor problems in free practice.
Team mate Roger Moen, Harrison's major points rival, felt that he had fitted slicks too early on the drying circuit and languished down in ninth. Outside title contender James Kaye had a similar story but at least ended up in sixth.
Brands Hatch Qualifying
Pos, Driver, Car, Time
1 Yvan Muller (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.722s
2 Jason Plato (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.752s
3 James Thompson (Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.756s
4 Warren Hughes (MG ZS) 49.790s
5 Dan Eaves (Peugeot 406 Coupe) 49.817s
6 Phil Bennett (Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.821s
7 Steve Soper (Peugeot 406 Coupe) 49.826s
8 Anthony Reid (MG ZS) 50.028s
9 Tim Harvey (JSM Alfa Romeo 147) 50.496s
10 Tom Ferrier (JSM Alfa Romeo 147) 51.154s
1 Hughes 49.674s
2 Muller 49.677s
3 Bennett 49.684s
4 Plato 49.707s
5 Soper 49.739s
6 Thompson 49.753s
7 Eaves 49.913s
8 Reid 50.005s
9 Harvey 50.500
10 Ferrier 50.607s
1 Paul O'Neill (Techspeed Peugeot 306) 52.053s
2 Simon Graves (Barwell Honda Accord) 52.183s
3 Simon Harrison (HTML Peugeot 306) 52.343s
4 Gavin Pyper (GA Janspeed Alfa Romeo 156) 52.434s
5 Mat Jackson (GR Ford Focus) 52.479s
6 James Kaye (Barwell Honda Accord) 52.513s
Portugal / Results
Standings / After 12 races
|Browse full championship table|
|Emilia Romagna||Imola||1 Nov|
|Abu Dhabi||Yas Marina||13 Dec|
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Berlin / Results
|2||Nyck de Vries||47m23.447s|
Standings / After 11 races
|1||Antonio Felix da Costa||158|
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